Fire academy standout, high-schooler suicide stuns Texas community
School trustee said of fire cadet Katerin Romero: "She was a natural leader, respected by her fellow academy cadets."
By Monica S. Nagy and Gordon Dickson
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
FORT WORTH, Texas — Katerin Romero had just started her senior year at Eastern Hills High School where she was a "standout" student in the fire academy and was on her way to becoming the first person in her family to go to college.
On Thursday, a day after her death, grieving friends and family struggled to understand why she jumped from a freeway overpass.
Romero, a sociable 17-year-old known as "Kat," was seen leaving the high school at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday. She went to the Beach Street bridge over Interstate 30, jumped and was then run over by a car.
She was pronounced dead at 1:11 p.m., the Tarrant County medical examiner's office reported.
At a candlelight vigil outside the school Thursday night, Romero's 15-year-old brother, Sergio Centeno, carried his sister's softball team T-shirt.
He thanked the crowd for showing respect to his sister.
Before the vigil began, he said he hoped the burden of his sister's death wouldn't be too heavy for the community.
"I hope they keep their heads up, and keep a smile for her," he said in an interview. "She loved everybody and always told me stories about her friends."
Many brought pink balloons. They wrote words of tribute on posters and artwork taped to a brick wall outside the school entrance.
"We are here tonight to love on you, to be your hands and arms and whatever else we can do, said Patricia Miller, an elder at the Potter's House church who helped host the gathering.
Earlier in an interview, Romero's aunt, Cleris Erlinda Centeno, said she was told by relatives that the teenager and her boyfriend broke up Wednesday morning.
"She sent messages out to a few cousins and her mom saying 'goodbye' right before it happened," Centeno said.
School Trustee Tobi Jackson said school staff had positive conversations with Romero before her death.
Jackson described Romero as a "standout" and one of the few girls in the Eastern Hills Fire Academy. Jackson said she is working on starting a scholarship in Romero's name that supports the 80 students in the fire academy, which is part of the Fort Worth school district's Gold Seal Schools and Programs of Choice initiative.
"She was a natural leader, respected by her fellow academy cadets as well as the Hills staff," Jackson said. "She is greatly and deeply missed."
Fire academy chief Eddie Burns said Romero would been in the fire academy's first graduating class in May. She could also have been the first in her family to go to college, he said.
"She had options," Burns said. "She was one of the few that had the grades and was physically fit. That's what I admired about her. She met the challenge."
Romero was also a graduate of the Fort Worth Police Department's Explorer Program where she volunteered, and was a Highlanders softball player, said fellow senior Ty Sims.
"The Highlander community is mourning the loss of a outstanding member of the student body," said Sims, who is also in the fire academy. "Kat was a great student, friend and loving sister to her younger brother. She was well known for her character and humility."
The school district sent 16 additional counselors to the east Fort Worth campus on Thursday to help teachers, staff and students, district officials said.
District officials reminded students of its Friends 4 Life program, an anonymous tip line on its web site and Fort Worth school district's mobile app that alerts intervention specialists to those who need help.
Lezlie Culver, a coordinator at MHMR of Tarrant County's Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors Team, said the families of people who commit suicide need help, too. They can call the LOSS Team at 817-733-9123, she said.
(c)2014 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
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